Leibniz-Zentrum Allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft Leibniz-Gemeinschaft

Flexible and Multiple Plural Marking in Language Contact and Creolization: Social and Situational Correlates

Organisator(en) Aria Adli (HU), Manfred Krifka, Nico Lehmann (HU) Tonjes Veenstra & Elisabeth Verhoeven (HU)
Workshop/Tagung CRC 1412 "Register: Language Users‘ Knowledge of Situational-Functional Variation”
Veranstaltungsbeginn 28.11.2022, 10.00 Uhr
Veranstaltungsende 29.11.2022, 16.00 Uhr
Ort ZAS Berlin and via Zoom
External webpage


In contact situations, languages can acquire flexible and multiple number marking. For example, in the Creole language Bislama (Vanuatu), regular plural marking is with the determiner ol, as in ol aelan ‘islands’, but it is also possible to combine this marking with suffixal plural marking, as in ol erias ‘areas’, to rely only on English-type suffixal marking, or to leave out plural marking altogether in spite of semantic plurality (Crowley 2004). The suffixal plural marking is largely restricted to English-derived nominals (e.g. ol nakamal, but ?ol nakamals ‘gathering houses’) and seems to be more frequent in certain registers or genres (e.g., it occurs rarely in traditional stories). As another example, the plural marker –o’ob in Yucatec Maya is optionally used with noun phrases with plural reference, influenced by various linguistic factors such as definiteness, specificity, and animacy (Lucy 1992, Butler 2012, 2021). Due to contact with Spanish, Yucatec Maya also exhibits flexible plural marking: Loan words can carry either the Yucatec plural marker, as in cura-o’ob ‘priest-PL’, or the Spanish plural marker, as in cura-s ‘priest-PL’, both markers, as in cura-s-o’ob ‘priest-PL-PL’, or neither, as in cura ‘priest(s)’. As an effect of their exposure to Spanish, younger speakers and speakers with higher levels of education use the plural marker more often (Butler & Couoh Pool 2018). In more controlled speech production, some speakers consider the absence of plural marking with plural reference to be an effect of sloppy speech, which gives rise to hyper-correction effects in associated registers. Such variation has been also reported for Tok Pisin (Mühlhäusler 1985, Romaine 1992, Smith 2002) and Jamaican Creole (Bobyleva 2013, Patrick 2017). On the other hand, multiple markings appear to be absent from French-based creoles (but see Albers 2020). Other types of contact-induced variation have been reported for Afro-Hispanic varieties (Lipski 2010) and Brazilian Portuguese (Guy 1981).

Such variations of plural marking in contact situations are of still under-explored relevance for the investigation of the nature of number marking and of the social factors underlying synchronic variation. Wiltschko (2021) summarizes different approaches to number marking and argues that it can be realized at different syntactic levels within the nominal spine. Acquaviva (2008), cf. also the overview article of Alexiadou (2021), pointed out the presence of lexical plurals that interact with syntactic plural marking. Flexible and multiple plural marking speak to these theoretical issues directly. For example, as the suffixal marking in Bislama is restricted, it may be of a derivational or even lexical nature (comparable to plural forms like English fungus – fungi). Further questions of interest include:

  • Does language contact affect the use of plural in all syntactic environments, e.g., noun phrases with plural reference, constructions with classifiers, plural agreement?
  • What is the relevance of flexible or multiple number marking in language contact situations for understanding the nature of optional number marking?
  • What does the co-occurrence of different systems in different parts of the nominal inventory (native vs. loan words) imply for the structural representation of plural in a given language?
  • What is the role of multiple exponence of plurality (if applicable)?

Invited speakers: 

                • Ulrike Albers (Université de la Réunion)

                • Artemis Alexiadou (ZAS / Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)

                • Martina Wiltschko (Universitat Pompeu Fabra)

                • Gregory Guy (New York University)

Call for papers: 

New deadline: September 1, 2022

We invite presentations on empirical descriptions of contact-induced flexible number marking and theoretical issues that are relevant for understanding of the nature of this flexibility.

We are particularly interested in contributions that address inter- and intra-language variation in plural marking, in particular the social, stylistic and genre-specific correlates of flexible and multiple plural marking.

Please submit your anonymous abstract as a pdf (two pages, font not smaller than 11 points, including examples) by September 1, 2022 to fb3sfbflexnum[at]leibniz-zas.de.

Further information: krifka@leibniz-zas.de, veenstra@leibniz-zas.de